How to Train a Terrier to Hunt Rabbits

Hard
6-8 Months
Work

Introduction

With 28 distinct region types that make up the Kennel Club's Terrier breeds, it is hard to pinpoint similar characteristics in all of them. But three traits that make them great for hunting are their fearlessness, tenacity, and intelligence, regardless of their shape and size.

Bred to be warriors and hunters, these dogs are the ideal dog for hunting rabbits. They are known to wriggle through thick undergrowth and stop at nothing to win their prize. Their name is from an old French word meaning ‘earth’, as hunting through thick dirt is their speciality. It wasn’t until the 19th century that Terriers were seen less as feisty money-earners and more of a family pet. It is for these reasons why training your Terrier to be the ultimate rabbit hunter is a task worth taking. 

Defining Tasks

Hunting is extremely important for Terriers, as it is part of their natural characteristics. Sending your dog on a hunt will not only exercise it physically but mentally too, keeping your pooch healthy inside and out. The main challenge with Terriers is the need for a large amount of training. Although they have a natural ability for rabbit hunting, to train any dog to hunt takes a lot of time and energy. 

To train a Terrier, it will take six to eight months. After that, the work doesn’t stop. Continuous training is key to keep your Terrier’s skills up to scratch. You can start basic rabbit hunting training when your puppy is eight weeks old. However, to get your pooch out in the wild, one year old is the best time to start training your Terrier. Despite this, these breeds have a large natural ability and it is also possible to start training at an older age too. 

Getting Started

To get started with training, it is ideal to get your dog used to the scent. An idea would be to source rabbit skin and rabbit legs. Rabbits tend to live in areas of thick bush, shrubbery, and tangled weeds. Terriers are the ideal dog for hunting in areas that the average human wouldn’t be able to locate the rabbit in. 

A trick when training a Terrier is to keep learning fun. They are intelligent animals with independence and a fun-loving spirit, so a lot of praise and a fast pace are necessary. Last but not least, Terriers respond well to lots of treats. It would be a good idea to stock up on these before you start training your newfound hunting partner. 

The Foundation Hunting Method

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Step
1
Puppy obedience
This basic rabbit hunting method can be used when your puppy is just eight weeks old. The fundamental element of this method is that your puppy is good at recall. Start out by simply teaching your puppy to come back to you when called. You can do this by rewarding him heavily with treats and praise whenever he comes to you.
Step
2
Rabbit awareness
To get your puppy aware of the scent of rabbits, get him to play with rabbit legs in a safe and closed off environment. These should come from dead rabbits and contain an adequate amount of scent left over after being processed.
Step
3
Rabbit scent
When he is used to the smell, release a tame rabbit in your garden and let him find the rabbit. If the rabbit hides, this is good. The puppy will use his nose to find the rabbit, not his eyes. Remember to ensure the safety of all animals involved, as tame rabbits may be more prone to biting or scratching when threatened.
Step
4
Field awareness
As your puppy gets older and more experienced, increase the area size to a large field. Ensure that he has fantastic recall if you let him off-leash, as being able to get him to come back to you is important to maintain control.
Step
5
Finding a scent
Help your puppy find wild rabbits by going to an area known for rabbits. You can even search for rabbit holes beforehand to help your puppy find the scent. Keep him on leash during this exploration, as you won't want him to bolt off after a rabbit before he is ready to do so.
Step
6
Rabbits and recall
When your puppy has mastered all of this, this is when recall comes into play. Use your experience in step one to recall your puppy when he has found a rabbit in order to take over from there and to prevent him from catching and killing the rabbit himself.
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The Rabbit Pursuit Method

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Initial pursuit
To get your dog familiar with tracking a scent, sprinkle some treats on the floor in an area where your puppy can see them. Let him find the treats using the scent. Over time, you may want to start putting the treats in places that aren't so obvious.
Step
2
Treat pursuit
When your dog has mastered finding the treats, fasten them to a string and pull it along the ground. Your dog should be able to track the smell of the treats with his nose along the ground and find the treats. As this becomes easier, increase the distance of the tracking. Make this a fun game for him to participate in.
Step
3
Outside pursuit
This is when you can move to an outside field. Source a rabbit skin and carry out the same task in step two. This time, on a much larger scale. A helpful idea is to do this in long grass to get your Terrier used to the shrubbery and the terrain that he will be working in later on.
Step
4
Live pursuit
The next step is to use a live rabbit. Let your dog watch the rabbit run off in front and leave the dog for one minute to watch. After this, let your dog go and watch him chase the rabbit with his nose. If he gets distracted, you may want to leash him up and try again with a different area or rabbit.
Step
5
Wild pursuit
Once this has been perfected, it's time to move to a larger area. Fifty acres is about the span in which your dog will be able to carry out the pursuit. Let your dog off the leash and watch him find the scent, but remember to be ready to call him back to you if necessary.
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The Terrier Group Method

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Step
1
Scent recognition
Hold a rabbit by the scruff of its neck in front of your Terrier's nose. This will get him familiar with the scent. Be sure to be gentle with the rabbit if you intend to keep it from being hunted or targeted later on. Consult a professional animal handler if necessary to ensure the safety of all animals involved.
Step
2
Terrier introduction
Introduce your Terrier to another dog of similar size and shape. This allows them to run through similar size foliage. Dogs learn readily when placed with other dogs that are already experienced in a certain behavior or skill set. You may find that your Terrier learns much quicker when being paired up.
Step
3
Hunting trip
Once your puppy is acquainted, let both dogs go in a field together on a hunting trip. Your dog should follow the experienced Terrier and mimic some or all of the behaviors being exhibited during the hunting run. If necessary, you may want to keep your puppy on a long leash to maintain control as he learns.
Step
4
Pack hunting
Introduce your dog to a larger pack of five to six dogs. This will allow your puppy to hone in on his hunting skills, as well as keeping him socialized with other dogs. Keep an eye on the interactions between the dogs to make sure that no fighting erupts after certain prey.
Step
5
Continuous hunting
Every week for the next month, carry on allowing your dog to hunt in a pack. This will further his tracking skills and allow him to become more confident hunting on his own. The more practice your dog has, the more likely it will be that he develops the skills he needs to hunt on his own.
Step
6
Independent hunting
Allow your Terrier to hunt alone in a field with as little as five acres. This will engage your Terrier's natural independence and skill while giving him the exercise that he needs to keep him physically and mentally fit. Remember to constantly engage your dog's obedience skills while working.
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Success Stories and Training Questions

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